(Part 7 of a 13-part Conference USA football preview series)
In an offensive-minded league, Florida International is an anomaly.
Struggling to a 1-11, 1-7 mark in Ron Turner's first year as head coach, the Panthers were never able to get untracked offensively. Scoring 10 or fewer points in eight games, FIU was shutout in three games. When all was said and done, the Panthers' paltry 9.8 points per game tied Ohio for dead last among 123 FBS schools.
FIU did show some resliance. Bouncing back from the low point of the season — an embarrssing 72-0 Week 4 loss to Louisville — the Panthers returned from an open date to win at Southern Mississippi 24-23. After a 27-24 loss to UAB the next week, none of the Panthers' remaining six games were competitive.
Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith (39 receptions, 388 yards, 2 touchdowns) was one of the Panthers' few bright spots during the dismal season. Also back are junior wide receivers T.J. Lowder (24 receptions, 307 yards, 3 TDs) and Clinton Taylor (19-238) and running backs Lamarq Caldwell (144 carries, 504 yards, 1 TD) and Silas Spearman (132-368-4).
With all five starters returning, the Panthers are looking for drastic improvement from the offensive line.
Junior E.J. Hilliard completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 775 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions while sharing time with Jake Medlock. As fall camp approaches, Hilliard is expected to be challenged by junior Akil Dan-Fodio and early enrollees Alex McGough and Bud Martin.
FIU also had its share of defensive issues in 2013, allowing 37 points and 429.7 yards per game.
Senior free safety Justin Halley (53 tackles, 3 interceptions, 11 pass breakups) is the Panthers' top returning holdover tackler while sophomore safety Jordan Davis (47 tackles) was fourth on the team.